In the News April 1
Residential School Survivors Pursue Cause of Justice
Indigenous Representatives Succeed in Getting Apology from Pope
On April 1, the announcement came that Pope Francis I had finally apologized to the delegation of 32 Indigenous leaders, elders, knowledge keepers and residential school survivors who spent the week of March 28 in Rome, accompanied by six Catholic bishops from Canada. Meetings took place between the Pope and the Métis, Inuit and Assembly of First Nations (AFN) delegations. The aim of their visit was to seek the Pope’s apology and justice for the crimes committed by the Catholic Church and its representatives in the administration of the residential school system. The Pope made his apology before 160 people including the Indigenous delegates and their families and support staff.
Following the April 1 meeting at which the Pope apologized, the head of the AFN delegation, Regional Chief Gerald Antoine of the Dene Nation, stated that the apology was “long overdue” but only a first step, a step Indigenous peoples take as a “gesture of good faith.” Antoine said that the Pope must now come to Canada and formally apologize to the Indigenous peoples who were victims of the residential schools as the next step. He acknowledged the struggles of the Indigenous peoples in fighting for justice that got them to “this historical point” and thanked the Canadian people and peoples around the world for their support. He pledged to work in unity with the Métis and the Inuit to further their fight for justice for the victims of the residential schools and affirmed the resilience, vitality and right to be of the Indigenous peoples of Canada.
The Residential School system was part of the Canadian state’s colonial project to extinguish Indigenous peoples and assimilate them. More than 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children were brutally abducted from their families by agencies of the Canadian state including the RCMP between the 1880s and 1996 and handed over to schools organized by various Christian denominations. It has been well established that these children were brutalized, terrorized, sexually abused, starved and tortured, and an estimated 25,000 Indigenous children died while attending residential school, three-quarters of which were run by the Catholic Church.
The horror of this genocide was brought into sharp relief in the consciousness of Canadians with the announcement on May 27, 2021, of the discovery of the remains of 215 Indigenous children in unmarked graves on the grounds of the Kamloops Indian Residential School, a school run by the Catholic Church.
Recommendation number 58 of the 94 Recommendations of the historic Truth and Reconciliation Commission tabled in 2015 states: “We call upon the Pope to issue an apology to Survivors, their families, and communities for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children in Catholic-run residential schools. We call for that apology to be similar to the 2010 apology issued to Irish victims of abuse and to occur within one year of the issuing of this Report and to be delivered by the Pope in Canada.”
That was seven years ago during which no apology was proffered by the Papacy on behalf of the Catholic Church.
The trip to the Vatican was the result of ongoing and relentless efforts by Indigenous organizations and victims of the residential school system and their families and elders to make sure the Catholic Church acknowledges its crimes, pays compensation to the victims and brings to justice those responsible for these crimes, many of whom are walking about freely today. They also demanded that the papal “bulls” issued in the 15th century claiming rights of discovery be officially repudiated.
The first Indigenous group to meet the Pope in an hour-long meeting were the Métis on the morning of March 28. The Métis delegation was led by Métis National Council (MNC) President Cassidy Caron, and included three Métis elders who are residential school survivors. This was followed by a meeting between the Pope and a delegation representing the Inuit, which was led by Natan Obed, President of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami.
On Thursday March 31, the Pope met with the Assembly of First Nations delegation.
(Photos: C. Caron, ITK, AFN)
Renewal Update, posted April 1, 2022.